Law enforcement officials are warning parents to closely monitor their children’s online activities, as the presence of online predators who create fraudulent celebrity accounts continues to increase.
According to Inspector Jon Rouse, who manages a specialist branch at Argos that tracks down online predators, a number of pedophiles are using social media to create fake celebrity profiles, especially fraudulent Harry Styles and Justin Bieber profiles. Styles, member of former boy band, One Direction, has a large following of teens and young children. Bieber also has millions of underage fans.
“Identity assumption by child sex offenders is increasing quite steadily….The fact that so many children across the world could believe that they were talking to Justin Bieber, and that Justin Bieber would make them do the things that they did, is really quite concerning.”
A mother in Australia said that an online predator messaged her 8-year-old daughter just two days after she downloaded a social media app.
“The first message was inviting you to enter a competition and to win it you get a five minute chat (with the celebrity),” the mom said. “And then the second message that came up was along the lines of ‘all you need to do is send me a photo of you naked or of your vagina.’ And then all these messages flew across the screen.”
One app in particular, Musical.ly, tends to attract an enormous crowd of children and teens. The app allows users to make 15-second video clips to accompany their favorite songs. BBC reports that as of 2017, over 50 million people under 21 have downloaded the app. The majority of users are around 16 years old and younger. Rouse said that child sex offenders are flocking to the social media app.
— Anisa Subedar (@TheAnisaSubedar) April 24, 2017
“Lots of child sex offenders are utilizing Musical.ly to groom children. That’s a very well-known international fact, believe it or not.”
Predators are also flocking to Twitter. For instance, user @PrvtHarryStyles posed as Harry Styles earlier this year, and posted numerous inappropriate comments to underage girls. The profile has since been shut down, but the battle to keep child predators from creating fake accounts is ongoing across all of the popular social media platforms.
Sharon Girling, a safeguarding consultant, said that parents and children alike should make sure that every celebrity profile has a verified blue check mark. The blue check mark, typically beside the celebrity’s name, means that the account has been verified as the actual celebrity who posts on the page, or has approved reps who post on their behalf.
“When you’re nine or 10 or 12 looking at these accounts, they seem to be genuine and so as a consequence it’s the younger element that is getting fooled into believing that they are legitimate.”
Further, most celebrities will never have private accounts, but a number of predators will make their accounts private while they prey upon children. If the account isn’t verified and it’s private, chances are great that the page doesn’t belong to a true celebrity.
[Feature Photo: AP/ Robert Altman/Invision]